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Animals in 'Jungle Book' do not quite come to life

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It would be nice to report that if all the Christmas shows playing around town have you down, Oklahoma City Theatre Company is offering a respite in the jungles of India, which is about as far as you can get from the North Pole without being at the South Pole.

Alas, OCTC's production of Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" yields little relief, but earns credit for one thing: It's not "The Nutcracker" or "A Christmas Carol."

Rick Cheek and Erin Hicks-Cheek have adapted "The Jungle Book" for the stage. Congratulations to the company for producing original work, even if it is an adaptation of a book published in 1894. Come to think of it, this is a good time to digress and encourage more Oklahoma theater companies to produce new "? and not just new-to-Oklahoma "? plays and high-quality productions.

It is hard to judge the efficacy of the Cheek-Hicks-Cheek adaptation of "The Jungle Book" based on the company's production.

Essentially a coming-of-age story, Mowgli (a young Ethan Power, making his stage debut and playing the part with a cast on his right wrist) is a "man's cub" who has been reared by a pack of wolves. Reaching adolescence, Mowgli must leave the jungle and rejoin civilization. He considers this a step down, and, at times, one tends to agree with him.

The production should not be confused with the Disney animated motion picture from 1967, although the show could sure use some of that film's humor and energy.

MOVEMENT COACH
Portraying animals onstage is tricky, but it can be done, as proven recently by choreographer Austin Hartel with Contemporary Dance Oklahoma at the University of Oklahoma. Kipling and Cheek and Hicks-Cheek anthropomorphize the animals in "Jungle Book" through the dialogue, so the director and actors must legitimize them through movement. Tim Berg directs the OCTC's production, but what the show needs is a choreographer, or a movement coach, if such a job title exists.

One actor in the cast gets the right idea, and that is the always-reliable David Mays as Bagheera the panther. Mays has obviously thought through and figured out how to create the character of the panther and give it real personality. Unfortunately, his work has not been absorbed by the rest of the cast. Thus, most of the performances are uninspired or clich

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